The tragedy of Scott Vermillion must not be ignored or allowed to fade away 07/05/2022

The early end Scott Vermillion‘s life, the torments he has endured, the wretched suffering of his loved ones, are now all a matter of record.

An MLS player has died and his death is clearly related to the activity he chose to pursue in his career…playing football. What will sport do about it?

Chances are it won’t do anything. This is an opinion – my opinion – based on previous experience. For about a decade, the evidence has been mounting – and increasingly worrying – that headers, football’s unique activity, are a very serious problem.

As such, it urgently needs to be treated with great seriousness. And it wasn’t. Not even close. Yes, yes, there were words and statements and announcements that told us that the people who play the sport are doing this and that and that for… well, what for? Improving the treatment of head injuries is about so far.

Can you imagine the cunning cynicism behind this attitude? It goes like this: “Sorry about the injuries guys but there’s nothing we can do about it, they’re just a normal part of the game, you have to endure them. Although nowadays we offer improved diagnosis and treatment. That can help. But we need more research.”

So the game continues as before. Nothing has changed in the rules of the game – the probability of suffering a serious head injury is therefore just as high as it was 20 years ago.

Yes, of course I have written about this before. And I’ll keep pushing to the point. I may have written somewhere that in such cases nothing is ever done until someone dies. I’ve certainly thought that often enough. That moment has now arrived for MLS with the death of Scott Vermillion.

How difficult, I continue to wonder, is it for someone at the highest level of the sport to stand up and say loud and clear…

Yes, we are facing an ugly crisis. Our sport as it is currently played can kill people. Maybe a lot more than we know. We must take immediate action to minimize the occurrence of headers in football. By appropriate rule changes. We can no longer avoid this responsibility. Failure to take this action constitutes criminal negligence.”

But the idea that nothing can be done until the rules are changed is already an excuse for inaction. FIFA is responsible for the rules through the completely incompetent IFAB. Without his say, things must remain as they are.

So nothing is done. Because IFAB holds all the world records for indolence and hesitation. but why Can’t a major branch of FIFA membership – say MLS for example – let it be known that it feels morally bound to reject the IFAB dictate that it must continue to apply the current rules?

Rules allowing headlines when mounting evidence suggests that activity, headlines, can cause serious medical problems, even death.

Could Don Garber stand up and make the statement I set out above? I guess not. Just not done. But he could deliver a watered-down, less dramatic version and let the world know – for the first time – that there are real, alive, human people within football who are deeply troubled by both the problem itself and football’s lack of any meaningful response .

I suggested a way like that in a previous column The number of header incidents per game has been significantly reduced. All that is needed is an OK from IFAB and a few minor changes in the rules.

Unfortunately, should IFAB ever get around to reading this, even if we agree, we can expect a delay of at least 10 years before action is taken. If you think I’m exaggerating, consider this: when the first Rules of Football were codified in England in 1863, they contained the very Victorian infraction of ‘unfair conduct’.

This expression had disappeared from English usage along with most Victorian customs by the 1930s. Incredibly, the phrase stayed in the IFAB rule book until 1997, when it was replaced with “unsportsmanlike conduct.” It had taken the IFAB 60 years to update its archaic vocabulary.

Scott Vermillion’s tragedy must not be ignored or faded into the background. It contains the clearest and most prominent warning yet for American football. There is a lurking problem in sport that calls for attention. Football’s reaction so far has been pathetic. In fact, the clearest steps have been taken in this country, with a total ban on driving in lower age groups.

But leadership in combating this threat must come from above. We must be told that movements are being made at the top level. The Pro level, the money making level. In the US, that means MLS. We’re back to the wall of obstinate stubbornness of FIFA and IFAB.

Were the MLS to announce that they were changing the rulebook to reduce the number of headers in their games, FIFA would promptly suspend the league. That means it would make US Soccer suspend MLS. If US Soccer refused, it would be suspended as well, and American teams would all be banned from international competitions. A mighty high price to pay – not quite a death sentence, but that is far, far too much power for a governing body to wield unilaterally.

People with that much clout are sure to get arrogant. And careless of whatever their duties are. Here we are with football. An arrogant FIFA and a sluggish IFAB.

I remember Scott Vermillion’s name from his playing days – an unusual, pleasing name. But I have no memory of him as a player. Suddenly he’s so much more important than a player. Scott Vermillion is a name that now desperately deserves everyone with football memories. The sport desperately needs leadership, direction. The voice we should listen to, louder than everyone else, comes from the short, tragic life of Scott Vermillion. A voice urging us to drop the arrogance and start the hard work, taking a long, hard look at ourselves and our sport. Hard work that could help save some of today’s young players from the nightmare that shattered Scott Vermillion’s life.

A diagnosis brings CTE to American professional football: Scott Vermillion, a former collegiate star who played four seasons in MLS, died in 2020. He is the first American professional footballer with a public case of CTE By Andreas Keh (New York Times)

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